The world is in peril (again) and S.H.I.E.L.D. has -- naturally -- found itself right smack dab in the middle of it. As far as first days on the job go, Special Ops Supreme Commander Phil Coulson may have had better luck if he'd remained a data specialist, but that certainly would have made for a far less interesting read. Mark Waid, Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo and Jason Paz's "S.H.I.E.L.D." #1 spends a little too long developing established characters like Coulson and not enough on the other members of the team, though this oversized issue is a fun ride nonetheless.
Let me back up a little bit: While Coulson took up a bit too much of the spotlight, this does not impact how well his character was written. For as long as Coulson has existed comics-side, he's felt more like a cardboard cutout of his cinematic counterpart than a real character, reduced to little more than a prop for convenience or gags in other series. Here, however, Waid adapts his character to make him suddenly and firmly important to S.H.I.E.L.D., expanding on the fanboyism that made him Cap's biggest fan in the films, Coulson and his skillset, get a boost that reasserts his sly, savvy attitude and bravado. Waid quickly establishes his background by shaping him distinctly to the 616 universe's needs, from his nerdy youth to his fanatic college days to his early involvement in S.H.I.E.L.D. in the span of only a few pages. This, in turn, makes him a wholly relatable character despite his spectacular surroundings. Waid just nails the character's voice in such a way that you can hear Clark Gregg's deadpan delivery of the lines. Further, Waid has a little fun with the issue by including nods to the show that inspired it, like a cavalry mention and Fitz's desire for a helper monkey, and the rumors that circulated following the announcement that Coulson would come back to life.
However, as thoughtfully written as Coulson was, the other characters felt lacking. Coulson is, of course, the key protagonist in this tale; it's his team that dives into the fray, after all. As in need of retooling as he was, though, he is probably the most well known character on the team, particularly for people who don't watch the TV show but have a general knowledge of the comics and the movies. As such, the introductions for May, Simmons and Fitz were quick, and the characters easily overlooked; that is, the characters that needed the most development flew under the radar. Each character got a moment, but not one that really defined them. Likewise, they were easily overshadowed by the issue's surprise guest stars, both of whom have had long tenures in comics.
Carlos Pacheco, with Mariano Taibo and Jason Paz on inks, does an absolutely impressive job of handling the sheer amount of characters in this issue. "S.H.I.E.LD." is a star-studded debut, rife with familiar characters like Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Storm and many others. He includes one absolutely dazzling splash page that so many figures that it'll set the readers' head spinning, which makes the task of actually creating such a piece all the more impressive. Nonetheless, each character is distinct and recognizable; no details get lost in the writhing mass of combatants. While this splash page is particularly of note, his attention to detail carries throughout, particularly in these massive fight sequences. Although some sequences are a bit puzzling in the way that they're choreographed, like Mussan's demise and Heimdall's fluctuating size, Pacheco's work is strong throughout.
Where Dono Almara does a largely solid job in setting the atmosphere with dusty yellow deserts and flaming red fire worlds, he slips up about midway through the issue by switching Simmons and Valkyrie's hair colors. The mistake lasts for the space of a page, but it's enough to cast confusion over the following sequence, for it's all too easy to confuse the two characters from that point forward. Letterer Joe Caramagna, on the other hand, does a wonderful job with setting the tone with his on-point word bubble choices; his frosty "no" from Valkyrie and Heimdall's inverted colors offer clues that flow into the next plot point via his carefully considered choices.
In its first issue, Mark Waid, Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo, and Jason Paz's "S.H.I.E.L.D." #1 aims to wow but falls a little short of target. Nevertheless, it takes care of the legwork in establishing the team dynamic, albeit lightly, in a fun and memorable way.